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Sunday, April 28, 2013

42 Review: Chadwick at the Bat.

There's no getting around it, the film 42 is a relic. I could make a half-assed Indiana Jones joke here, but... nah.This is a movie straight out of the early 90's, but the thing is, it's still a remarkable film from the early 90's. The opening scene with Ford's tin eared “old codger” voice talking about how it's time to integrate pro baseball while bathed in bronze quasi-holy light is as hokey as they come. I was ready to bail, that is, until the film's namesake finally made his entrance.

Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie Robinson like his entire career was leading to this role while never tipping his hand to the audience of any shred of desperation. He is beyond exceptional and I suspect we will being seeing much more of him in the future. When Jackie makes it to the bigs we feel for him, when he laughs we laugh with him, when his heart breaks under the daily barrage of bigotry so do ours. I hate to use the phrase “a star is born” but he has, and with the help of his equally compelling wife in actor Nicole Beharie we cross the line from a passable project to an labor of love. Sure you have to sit through the obligatory proposal/marriage/”you're special” pep talks, but thankfully the two get to share a couple touching left field (sorry) moments that spice the pacing up when it needs it most. And to be fair the final pep talk is all kinds of adora-awesome, which is now, obviously a word.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag of swings and misses (I'm so sorry). Christopher Meloni has a nice run for the first quarter as the manager that has to knock the less agreeable Dodgers into line and Alan Tudyk absolutely nails the thankless role of Ben Chapman. As the most outwardly racist caricature in a film chock full of the suckers, he's a flesh and blood Yosemite Sam. That may sound like a knock, but seriously, he is an entirely convincing Yosemite Sam. But we need to talk about Ford.

He's bad, really really bad. There's a stuffy odor of white man's burden around the character on paper and his forced voice always broke my immersion. He hasn't been a character actor before, to my knowledge, and this is proof positive as to why he never should be again. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a good arch or that his voice does eventually become kind of endearing, but he wears you down instead of winning you over. If half of his scenes were cut it would have been a better film.

You can usually tell when a film is made by people who wanted to be there versus when it was more of an obligation and 42 is definitely the former. It's a good story with good casting with a familiar yet affecting path to the end credits. Yes it's hokey, yes Ford is painfully miscast, and yes the racism is more than a little melodramatic. But you know what? I'd bet money on that part of American history being just as melodramatic as this film depicts it. And for every go nowhere scene with the Dodger malcontents there’s one with Jackie and Rachel, which is more than worth it. Also the scene near the end with a small white child reacting to a racist crowd was appropriately dark and showed a draft of a much better film that was probably sanitized...probably. I loved that scene and I really liked this movie. It's not a showstopping grand slam (SORRY!) but rather an honest, heartfelt double play. (I have a problem...)

That's the real Rachel in a picture that made my whole damn week.

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